BOTHELL — Duane Lewis was never shy about approaching students in the hallways of Lynnwood High School and encouraging them to join the track and field team.
A masterful promoter of his program, the longtime Royals head coach used his charismatic persona to help build Lynnwood into a track and field powerhouse.
That trait also allowed him to forge lifelong bonds and touch countless lives.
Lewis, the only track and field head coach in school history, retired last month after 46 seasons at the helm.
“He’s been a staple of Lynnwood High School forever,” said Stephanie Tastad, an alumnus who ran for Lewis and has spent the past six seasons as an assistant in the program. “Everyone who meets him has some kind of story about how he has changed or altered their life, whether it was encouraging them to be a better athlete, a better person or a better student.”
Lewis spent a total of 51 years coaching track and field in the Edmonds School District, beginning with five seasons at Edmonds Junior High before taking over the Lynnwood boys program when the school opened in 1971. He added the role of girls head coach in 1976, and held both positions ever since.
“He’s a once-in-a-lifetime coach,” said Mikayla Pivec, an Oregon State University freshman basketball player who helped Lynnwood’s girls track and field team win the Class 3A state title last year. “He’s just a positive, outgoing person who wants to touch as many lives as possible. You don’t stay 51 years if you don’t enjoy coaching — if you don’t enjoy helping young kids become as successful as they can be.”
The Lynnwood boys and girls teams experienced immense success under Lewis, combining for 30 individual state titles, 12 top-five team trophies at state and more than 30 Wesco and district championships. The girls team won state titles in 1990 and 2016, and the boys earned a state championship in 1994.
Both teams also enjoyed massive winning streaks, with the boys claiming 58 consecutive dual meets from 1990 to 1997 and the girls winning 44 straight from 1986 to 1991.
Lewis was inducted into the Washington State Track and Field Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2009, becoming the first Snohomish County coach to receive that honor.
But Lewis was quick to deflect credit to his athletes.
“Sometimes when you have that outstanding talent, you look like a pretty smart coach,” he said.
One of Lewis’ greatest strengths as a coach was his ability to recognize talent and place individuals in the proper events from the get-go. As longtime assistant Ernie Goshorn described, it was like Lewis had a “sixth sense” as to where an athlete should be devoting his time.
“Convincing the kid to do the event that you think they should be in is one thing,” said Jackson coach Eric Hruschka, another Lynnwood alumnus who ran for Lewis. “But getting them placed in the right spot quickly, so they can spend most of the season working on those specific skills to that event — that’s hard. And he was a master at that.
“And maybe that’s where he got ahead of everybody else. It took us (other coaches) longer to get the kid into the right spot, and because of that, we lost time. If he got the kid into the event three weeks ahead of you, well, when your kid took on his kid, his kid had a three-week head start.”
Lewis’ own track career began like many of his Lynnwood athletes’ careers — with a bit of nudging from a coach.
After returning from the state wrestling meet during his senior year at Shoreline High School, Lewis was watching a track practice from the bleachers when the coach invited him to run a 400 meters time trial. Lewis only had his wrestling shoes, but decided to give it a try.
“We’d run 300s in P.E.,” Lewis said. “And he said, ‘Well, it’s just a little longer than 300.’ He didn’t tell me about that last 100. I came down to the last straightaway, and I was stumbling and tripping over myself. … Ironically, (the 400) was where I ran from that point on.”
Lewis quickly developed an affinity for track and continued his running career at Seattle Pacific University, where he was a three-year letterman and served as team captain his final season.
“The one thing that I’ve always appreciated about track and field is that you can always measure your improvements with a stopwatch or a tape measure,” Lewis said. “It’s something that you can go out on that field and maybe be defeated by an opponent, but you might have improved in what you’ve accomplished as far as your time or your distance.”
Lewis, who taught history at Lynnwood for 30 years and is known for his exceptional storytelling, excelled at motivating his athletes and maximizing their abilities — no matter their skill level.
At the end of each season, he’d give every athlete a piece of paper with a handwritten list of their season’s best times and marks. The purpose was to show how they had progressed and provide motivation to continue improving.
“He does an amazing job of getting so much out of every kid in his program, and not just the elite kids,” Hruschka said. “People are going to talk about all the championship teams and championship individuals, but … he was always trying to develop and help those JV kids become a varsity kid, or the varsity kid (to) take that next level and become a scorer for them.”
Part of that was Lewis’ ability to connect with his athletes.
“He’s very easy to talk to, and that puts kids at ease,” Goshorn said. “If a kid wanted to talk to Duane, Duane might talk to him for a half-hour after practice.”
And those bonds don’t end when athletes graduate.
“He develops relationships with his athletes that just last forever,” said Lake Stevens coach Jeff Page, yet another Lynnwood alumnus who ran for Lewis. “I’ve got a high school teammate that didn’t go into coaching and doesn’t live in the area, but Duane is in touch with him all the time.
“And he’s got former athletes like that from back in 1973, all the way up to right now — from every era for 40-plus years. I think that’s pretty remarkable.”
Added Tastad: “He’s a caretaker, and so he’s just constantly making sure everybody’s taken care of. And if he thinks about somebody, he’ll make a call and just connect. He’s just got one of those big hearts.”
Though Lewis will no longer be roaming Wesco sidelines as a head coach, his impact continues to stretch beyond the Lynnwood program. Several of his former athletes are now coaches — most notably Lake Stevens’ Page and Jackson’s Hruschka.
Lynnwood and Lake Stevens dominated Wesco from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s. In recent years, Lake Stevens and Jackson have been the class of Wesco 4A.
And the common tie between those three teams is Lewis.
“One of the tributes to Duane is all of the coaches he had an effect with,” Hruschka said. “We do so much of the same stuff that he taught us as athletes and as coaches. We all coached off the Duane Lewis blueprint.”
Lewis said he hasn’t ruled out a return to coaching, but noted that any such encore would come as an assistant.
“The head position has gotten to be more paperwork than coaching,” Lewis said. “I really enjoy the relationships that you get as a coach working directly with the kids.”
For now, Lewis plans to spend time with his family, including his 12 grandchildren.
As for the Lynnwood track and field program?
“I’ve joked that maybe we should retire the program, because how does it go on after Lewis?” Tastad said with a laugh. “He’s been the face of Lynnwood track for so long.
“It’s going to be weird not having him out on that track and talking to the athletes every day.”